Monday, September 12, 2005

bottled places: running after aurora

: running after aurora

She’s framed by the pillars of the Gateway Station of the LRT line when I find her, smoking a slender cigarette exactly as I was briefed she would be, exhaling equally thin wisps of grey from her thin lips. The train stopped moving hours ago, but there is the echo of motion, surrounding her like a phantom embrace. At first sight, she is a disappointment, all skin and bones covered by clothing old enough to have become fashionable again. She is slim in a way that is not flattering, and her hair is cropped, jagged darkness. Against the backdrop of the train’s supporting structure, she is as small as a child, dwarfed and reduced in context to just another background detail. It is only when I’m close enough to touch her that she looks up, looks at me and I am caught in the intensity of her eyes.

“It’s fifty pesos for a handjob, a hundred for a blowjob, and three hundred for a fuck.” The words exit her mouth in a dull cadence, like soldiers performing the same pointless maneuvers, practiced, polished and fatigued beyond expectation. “Midnight special.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, turning my face away. “I did not come for any of that.”

“You won’t find any cheaper around here,” she says, leaning over to scratch the backside of her knee. “Except for Luneta, but there’s a difference between those who do it to live and those who do it out of desperation. And that slut is so far away. And she’s sick, sicker than you can imagine.”

“Aurora?” At my question, she stiffens, pulls herself up to her full height, which could be no more than a few inches past five feet. “Are you Aurora?”

“Who wants to know?” Our eyes meet again, the ennui in hers replaced by suspicion and fear; I try to hide the sadness in mine.

“A friend,” I tell her, keeping my voice even and colorless. During the rigorous training regimen I undertook when I was promoted, it was drilled into my head to never give them a reason to run. Because Roads, when they run, are very difficult to catch. I remember asking my handler if he was joking. It seemed obvious to me that a Road could not go beyond where it began or ended. The stinging rebuke that I received, accompanied by a broken cheekbone that took a month to heal and an official memo from upstairs, instilled in me the incorruptible truth that there was precious little we knew about Roads.

Her bony frame tenses. “I don’t need friends.”

“Please,” I say, extending an empty hand towards her. “I just want to talk, to help you remember.”

“Fuck off,” she snarls. Then she runs.

Her form blurs and for an instant becomes a wraith, like the notion of something not quite there but with enough detail to cause doubt. And she is gone, leaving behind shimmering afterimages that dissolve into the night air split-seconds behind her, a fading trail of luminescense.

I focus and let my feet move, stomping my right foot first then my left, heel downward at a slant, the prescribed initial dance steps of pursuit. Moving Roads may be difficult to catch, but not impossible, not anymore. As buildings twist around me, I am visited again by the nausea provoked by my actions. I swallow the sourness and run after her.

I’m chasing Aurora. I’m pursuing a Boulevard. I’m trembling and having the time of my life.

Around me, the distortion grows. Structures, people and cars fade, replaced by swaths of colors. Where Roads travel is confusing and dangerous. I blink my eyes and focus on her undeniable trail, words already composing and arranging themselves into sentences in head, as if I had already caught up with her. As if I had already caught her.

Aurora was beautiful once, clean and bright and hopelessly filled with hope…

I do not notice the direction she is running towards, caught up in the imagery of my composition (oh, how I long to stop and write, bottle be damned). Old Man Cubao’s attention is elsewhere, that much I relied on. He wouldn’t bother with me. He wouldn’t bother with us. Too late I realize that she’s running towards someone else.

“Ed!” I hear her shout.

“Shit,” I say under my breath, realizing the inevitable intersection she tore towards. I see him too late, as in one fluid motion he takes her to one side with an arm corded with muscle and strikes at my face with a fist that seems larger than the moon. I feel my nose break and I scream, falling to the ground in pain. There is no love lost between cruel EDSA and myself. During our first and only encounter he had proven himself more than my match.

EDSA pounds at me again and I taste blood in my mouth. I lose count of the times I’m struck, curling myself into a ball in a vain effort to protect the rest of my face from his hands. He is relentless; I think I’m dying.

“Stop, Ed!” I hear Aurora’s voice through the red haze. “Enough. Enough!”

He listens to her and I am left to my spasms. I hear them talking but cannot make out anything they’re saying. Then I feel EDSA’s presence, physical and powerful, beside me, his mouth brushing my ear.

“The third time we meet will be the last.” His voice is vast and true, invading my mind before I give in to unconsciousness. “Do you understand? The Places may permit your intrusion, but the Roads will never submit. Tell your masters that.”

It is dawn when I come to. I struggle to stand and take an inventory of the throbbing mass of my face. My nose is a node of pain and my left eye cannot stop twitching. Miraculously, my notebook is intact. Part of me cannot believe two things: first, that I survived EDSA; and second, that no one took anything in the hours while I lay helpless along Aurora Boulevard.

I sit at a curb, find an empty page and write, determined at the very least to record my impressions on Aurora and the savage thing that happened afterwards.

What one finds at unexpected intersections of lives…

“Don’t,” a voice interrupts. I look upwards and see Aurora standing across the street, smoking a cigarette, her face impassive.

I try to say something. How I meant her no harm. How she didn’t have to run. Not from us. Not from me.

“Just leave.” Rail-thin, she exhales the words as smoke.


For the next installment of Bottled Places, visit The Brass Buddha this Thursday, then come back here next week for more.


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